Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Try listening, maybe. Hear what is being said. And remember it’s not about you. American Blacks are not telling you that you are to blame. They are just telling you what is. If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”
I have been meaning to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for several years now, but have been a little intimidated by it. It’s been this huge cultural phenomenon, and I felt a tad bit overwhelmed by it. But now after having picked it up, I feel silly for not having read it sooner. Americanah tells the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze. They meet and fall in love as teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria. But as things are getting worse in Nigeria and university professors go on strike, Ifemelu goes to America for school, while Obinze eventually makes his way to England. As the distance grows, they lose touch, but never forget one another.
Ifemelu spends thirteen years in America, mostly in the Northeast. Growing up, she never really thought about going to America, whereas Obinze was obsessed with America, soaking up American novels, American movies, and American culture in general. But Obinze ends up in England since he could never get a visa to join Ifemelu. As Ifemelu adjusts to life in America, she begins to realize what no one in Nigeria even thinks about: race. In America, race is such a prevalent issue, and Ifemelu finds herself completely rethinking her perception of things in America. She eventually begins a blog about race called Raceteenth of Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. She writes about her experience with American Blacks and Non-American Blacks in a smart, snarky way. Her blog is very popular and for a while is her sole job. Throughout her time in America, she has two serious boyfriends, one wealthy white man and the other, an African-American Yale professor. Even devoted to these two men, she still finds herself thinking about Obinze. After thirteen years in America, she decides to return to Nigeria.
Obinze’s life once Ifemelu leaves for America takes an interesting journey. He tries unsuccessfully several times to get a visa to America, so eventually he goes to England illegally. While there, he works under someone else’s name and even pays a woman to marry him so he can legally stay. However, as he is walking in to marry her, he is arrested and then deported back to Nigeria. After struggling in Lagos for a while, he connects with a real estate investor, and basically overnight becomes a wealthy man in Lagos. He gets married and has a daughter, yet he still is not happy with his life. When Ifemelu struggled in her new life in America, she shut down from Obinze and ghosted him, and he never really got over it. So when Ifemelu emails him to let him know she is coming back home, he gets his hopes up about reconnecting with her.
Americanah is not just a love story, but also a story about race, class, and relationships of all kinds. Adichie gives an interesting perspective for an immigrant to America. I have never really even considered how disorienting it would be not only to move to a completely new country, but also discovering that something you’ve never thought about in your previous life like race is always (unfortunately) going to be an issue in your new home country. Adichie is such a talented writer and makes me think about all of these things that I’ve never had to consider. I was invested in these characters from page one, and even though I was not always a fan of their decisions, I still wanted the best for them.
I really enjoyed reading Americanah and definitely will be reading more of Adichie’s work. I have been trying to read more authors of color and about those whose stories are unfamiliar to me. I give this one 4.5 stars!
Let me know what the next Adichie book I should read! I'm leaning towards We Should All Be Feminists.